Monday, March 1, 2021

Raya and the Last Dragon

Through an extended opening sequence, heavy on narration, we're introduced to the divided nation of Kumandra which was once threatened by the film's underdeveloped boogeyman monsters known as the Druun (think less scary version of the creatures in Edge ofTomorrow). Years later, the last guardian of magic (Daniel Dae Kim) and his daughter Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) are betrayed by the selfishness of humanity as the Druun escape leading Raya in search of the last dragon who was able to stop the Druun centuries before.

After a flashforward restarts the movie again, a handful of years later, we're introduced to an adult Raya and her search for Sisu (Awkwafina). Raya is a solid addition to the Disney Princess line, even if her movie is hellbent on telling her story as awkwardly as possible at times. Along the way she'll meet other survivors the Druun haven't yet turned to stone. As a Disney film, it should be no surprise that we'll get some cute animal characters as well in Raya's traveling companion Tuk Tuk (Alan Tudyk) and a band of thieving Ongis who take care of the young Noi (Thalia Tran).

While the main threat, the Druun aren't the only villains in the film. We're also given Princess Namaari (Gemma Chan) and her mother (Sandra Oh) who helped plunge the world back into chaos and seem more than willing to let the rest of the world go to hell as long as their kingdom remains safe. Namaari's betrayal, and Raya's resentment towards her, is deeply woven into the fabric of the film as Raya and the Last Dragon examines themes of trust and forgiveness. While the ending may come off as hopelessly simplistic, there is certainly a strong message buried at the heart of the film.

Raya and the Last Dragon isn't the first time that Disney has attempted to dip their toe into a Disney-ized version of anime. The did it with Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Big Hero 6. You can also see the influence of Avatar: The Last Airbender here as well. The divided nation of Kumandra is based on the diversity of Southeast Asia (although it has come under attack for its mostly East Asian casting) and requires our heroine to travel to each region while picking up a few friends along the way. While more than a little familiar, Raya and the Last Dragon does hit several emotional beats (especially during the film's final act). It might not be the first great blockbuster movie fans have been desperately waiting two years for, but it will do for now.

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